Do I Need to File Taxes If I Didn't Work?

The Internal Revenue Service taxes earned and unearned income. Even if you did not earn income during the taxable year, you may have to pay taxes on unearned income. Unearned income may be dividends or interest, Social Security or veterans’ benefits or even from the sale of a house. The source of your income, your filing status and your age all help determine if you need to file a federal income tax return. You may choose to file a return if you are entitled to a tax credit.

  1. Unearned Income

    • Single or married individuals dependent on parents or another person can have interest, dividends and similar unearned income of $950 in 2012 without filing a federal income tax return. A single dependent over age 65 can have $2,400 in unearned income; a married dependent over age 65 can have $2,100. Unearned income for this purpose does not include your Social Security benefits.

    Gross Income

    • Your gross income is from all sources for the year and includes money, goods, property and services not exempt from taxation. It includes foreign income and income from the sale of a house. The filing threshold for gross income for a single person claiming his own exemption and under age 65 is $9,750 in 2012. That threshold increases to $11,200 for a single independent person over age 65. If you are self-employed, you must file a federal income tax return if your net income is in excess of $400. If you are married and your spouse files separately and itemizes deductions, you must file a tax return if you have gross income in excess of $5. If you are married filing separately, you must file a tax return at $3,800 in gross income. You can only earn $108.28 from a church or church organization before you are required to file a tax return.

    Special Taxes

    • If you claimed credits in prior years and must pay all or part of the credit back as a recapture, you must file a federal tax return. The recapture of an education credit or an alternative motor vehicle credit requires filing a tax return. If you have a household worker and owe household employment taxes, you must file a federal tax return. You may have to file a federal tax return if you owe additional tax on an IRA, a Coverdell ESA tuition program or an Archer MSA or health savings account. You must file if you owe alternative minimum tax as well. Any special situations where you owe the IRS money may require a tax return.

    Social Security

    • The IRS uses combined income to calculate whether you owe taxes on your Social Security benefits. For an estimate, use your gross income or adjusted gross income and add half of your Social Security benefits plus your nontaxable income, like interest on municipal bonds. If the total exceeds $25,000 and you are filing singly, you will need to file a tax return. Filing starts at $32,000 if you are married filing jointly.

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